King Kong and Narnia may be the big guns, but for architecture buffs, the new sly sleeper of a comedy Casanova may be the biggest delight of the holiday season.
The film reimagines the early life of the legendary lover as a Goldoniesque farce, overflowing with amatory deception, mistaken identity, swordplay and masked balls. And if it's directed by Lasse Hallstrom with a palpable lack of dramatic tension - the great set pieces most often amble amiably along rather than snap and crackle - if you just relax back into your seat you're liable to find it an incredibly entertaining concoction of impossibly beautiful women (Sienna Miller and Lena Olin), implausibly handsome leading men (Charlie Cox and Heath Ledger, a long way from Wyoming), rock-solid scenery chewing by the likes of Jeremy Irons, as the orange-wigged emissary of the Inquisition, and an Oscar-worthy turn by Oliver Platt as Paprizzio, the "lard king of Genoa", by turns vainglorious, sweet-natured and, when push comes to shove, brawnily heroic.
The film's biggest star however, is the city of Venice itself, CGI'ed back into the 18th century. Santa Maria della Salute, Piazza San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale - all the usual suspects are there, and much more, as well. The production - exteriors and interiors alike - was shot entirely within the city over four months. All of the countless locations are so beautifully captured by cinematographer Oliver Stapleton that they really need to be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated. There's even a Carnevale sequence, complete with fireworks and a romantic escape in a hot air balloon, that tops any Freudian dream of flying you've ever had.
What you won't find in Casanova are the ravages on time, or "acqua alta" - the rising up of water through the ground that can cover the Piazza San Marco in a foot and a half of the stuff in less than half an hour. (For a darker view of the city - some of it actually shot there - check out Orson Welle's Othello, if you can find a copy.)
In contrast, Hallstrom and company offer up a very idealized view of the city, and it looks glorious. If the usual orgy of holiday spending has left you too tapped out to pop for a Venetian vacation, Casanova offers a tantalizing peek at the architecture of this fabled city.
Join a discussion on this story
2005 Lynn Becker All rights